Neighborhoods to Nucleotides—Advances and Gaps for an Obesity Disparities Systems Epidemiology Model

  • Marta M. JankowskaEmail author
  • Kyle Gaulton
  • Rob Knight
  • Kevin Patrick
  • Dorothy D. Sears
Genetic Epidemiology (C Amos, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Genetic Epidemiology


Purpose of Review

Disparities in prevalence of obesity in the USA continue to increase. Here, we review progress and highlight gaps in understanding disparities in obesity with a focus on the Hispanic/Latino population from a systems epidemiology framework. We review seven domains: environment, behavior, biomarkers, nutrition, microbiome, genomics, and epigenomics/transcriptomics. We focus on recent advances that integrate at least two or more of these domains, and then provide a real-world example of data collection efforts that encompass these domains.

Recent Findings

Research into discrimination-related DNA methylation patterns and how microbiome profiles are related to eating and physical activity behaviors is furthering understanding of why disparities in obesity persist. Environmental and neighborhood level research is uncovering the importance of exposures such as air and noise pollution and systematic or structural racism for obesity and related outcomes through behaviors such as sleep.


Obesity disparities and the biological processes associated with them must be better contextualized within the social, economic, and political environments that contribute to them. One avenue for accomplishing this is by modeling relationships between within-body mechanisms and omics and beyond-body mechanisms and exposures. However, data integration across the various domains and data collection are significant challenges for generating a comprehensive systems model for obesity disparities.


Health disparities Hispanic/Latino Obesity Systems epidemiology Environmental exposure Data integration 


Funding Information

Funding for this research was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute (R01 CA179977). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The Nucleotides to Neighborhoods study was a Demonstration Project in Systems Biomedicine supported by a grant from the University of California San Diego Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics and San Diego Center for Systems Biology.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Marta M. Jankowska, Kyle Gaulton, Rob Knight, Kevin Patrick, and Dorothy D. Sears each declare no potential conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta M. Jankowska
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kyle Gaulton
    • 2
  • Rob Knight
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Kevin Patrick
    • 1
    • 6
  • Dorothy D. Sears
    • 3
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
    • 8
  1. 1.Qualcomm Institute/Calit2, 9500 Gilman Drive MC 0811University of California San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  3. 3.Center for Microbiome InnovationUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Computer Science and EngineeringUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  5. 5.Center for Circadian BiologyUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  6. 6.Department of Family Medicine and Public HealthUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  7. 7.College of Health SolutionsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  8. 8.Department of MedicineUC San DiegoSan DiegoUSA

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